For many players, not being selected at the NHL Draft can derail their career aspirations.
For others, an injury can be that insurmountable roadblock — much less two significant injuries in consecutive years.
For the Owen Sound Attack’s Sean Durzi, the combination of all three has merely added up to resiliency and the mental toughness needed to overcome those barriers and climb up the podium at this year’s NHL draft.
“I’ve worked hard and gone through a lot and the fact that I’m still kicking and probably better than ever right now is definitely something I’d add to my resume,” Durzi said. “I’m very mentally strong, mentally tough, and I have a good mindset no matter what I do.”
Durzi, a 6-foot, 195-pound blueliner who is 59th in Future Considerations’ Spring ranking for the 2018 NHL Draft, was eligible for last year’s draft.
He did not hear his name called.
“It was a strange day, Durzi said. “A lot of people say that it’s heartbreaking for many and it can ruin careers.
“I knew… my agent warned me that it’s a possibility. He said it’s not easy if you don’t get drafted and it does crush spirits sometimes. I really believe that I deserved to get drafted and that I’d be a good pick in the draft. I had that belief in myself and I thought it was good to have that confidence.
“It ended up not going my way and I came out of it more motivated than ever — not being crushed, but more motivated and almost playing with a chip on my shoulder now. It was an experience for the best and it’s helped me along the way. I had a great off-season last year and I was carrying it through this year — and I’m just trying to prove my point.”
Following the draft, Durzi received invites to and attended development camps with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers, as well as the New York Islanders rookie camp.
He took the opportunity to address the deficiencies that prevented him from being drafted last year.
“That’s probably one of the main questions I asked when I talked to [NHL teams]. I’ve always been a smart hockey player and I always thought I had a pretty good IQ for the game, but my physical talent and skill needed to catch up to my brain,” Durzi said.
“I took that [feedback] and during those early camps I learned a lot from them. I worked hard and tried to develop my skill to the point where it caught up to my brain — I think it paid off and I think it’s working out.”
It certainly seemed to have an immediate impact.
This year, he got off to a blazing start. In 37 games, he had 15 goals and 32 assists.
And then another setback — this time, a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the lineup until the Attack’s final three games (where he added two assists).
“It was obviously going really well for myself,” he said. “It was an exciting year and it was nice to be playing like that. But you’re going to go through injuries. It wasn’t that hard for me because I’ve gone through adversity in my career before, it’s nothing new to me. It was definitely a frustrating injury, and it was the kind of injury — it was a high ankle sprain — that was not easy to go through.
“There are always valleys and mountains that you have to climb. It was more just being mentally strong and realize that it happens to the best of the athletes in the world. You have to just focus on what you can do to get better.
“There was a stage where I couldn’t even skate — it was a period of time that was hard, but I’m happy to be back. We have great trainers here in Owen Sound. We have the best of the best helping me and I think that I’m better than ever.”
But this wasn’t the first significant injury Durzi suffered.
Last year, he found out he had an extra bone in his foot that needed to be removed.
“It was so strange,” he began. “I was actually training to get better, I was working out. I felt a little tweak in my ankle. I was wondering what was going on and I went to the doctor. They told me physio, physio, physio for the whole summer.
“I ended up finding out, a week-and-a-half before camp in my draft year, that I needed surgery. So I got the surgery done. I missed all of preseason and eight regular season games, which didn’t help — especially training in the off-season with a little tweak in the ankle doesn’t help. You can’t train 100 percent.
“I feel it’s just more adversity. It’s just something that makes hockey players better and makes the best of us better. All the great players in the world have gone through their own adversity. It’s the guys who come out of it who excel the most and the guys who take it as a learning experience, more than a setback.
“I take all adversity like that and I think it’s helped me.”
And though he felt he should have been drafted last year and is playing with that aforementioned chip on his shoulder, Durzi is focused not on proving teams wrong.
He’d rather prove some very important people right.
“I came out of the draft last year — and it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done. I’ve had my family there and you almost feel like you’re letting people down — all those people who support you,” he said.
“It’s the fact that they believe in you and you want to prove them right rather than proving other people wrong. I have a lot of people who believe in me and a lot of people who think I will succeed in this sport. I believe so as well.
“I’ve gone through adversity a lot. I think I’ve come through it in a good, positive way. And I think it will help me in the long run.”